Thursday, April 26, 2012

Last Rites

What is the difference between murder and self-defense? Necessity.

The man isn’t proud of what he plans to do. In some part of his soul, he wishes he could be as irresponsible, as moody and distractible as his wife. Yet he knows that in this life, he has to live out his destiny.

He bears the name of generations of proud men, those who ruled their households with strength, with resolve, with integrity, with love. Yet the honour of proud men rests in the hands, the eyes and the fickle loins of women.

He doesn’t believe she has betrayed him yet. She is only tempted, and looking for chances to escape from her luxurious home like a wild animal that prefers the desert to human civilization.

What did he expect when he married her? Loyalty, happiness. She was so beautiful then, and she said her vows in a voice that trembled slightly, as though she knew what a serious thing it was to join with him for a lifetime.

In only three years, she has changed. Perhaps childbearing gave her a change of focus. The new baby, like a new lover, seemed to steal her attention from his father as a casual wind could carry a ring into the air and drop it in a place where it could never be retrieved. Other people, both male and female, now receive her smile, her curiosity and her interest as often as he does.

She made a promise to him, not to the world at large. There has been talk. Even worse, there have been smirks and muffled laughter. Sir, do you know where your wife is when she’s not with you? Do you know what your little son has seen? He’s too young to tell you, or maybe he keeps his mother’s secrets.

She told him she wants to go to the university to broaden her knowledge. Household management can’t hold her attention.

The man has been unable to take a second, a third and a fourth wife because his first is unsuitable as the Head Wife of his household. Instead, she would sow seeds of rebellion.

What is the difference between civilization and anarchy? Custom, tradition, ritual. When he wraps his belt around her neck and squeezes, he will bless her while offering her release. He will assure her that her child will be well-raised while she will be free of burdens she could not bear. He will tell her he loves her, despite her failures.

The man knows what this ritual would be called in more “modern” cultures, where people worship the latest technological toy instead of a timeless God. Those cultures have waged war on his people because they want the land, the oil, the minerals. Honour is a concept they don’t understand.

A man must defend his honour. He feels as trapped by this knowledge as a wayward woman feels trapped by her marriage. He enters the bedroom where she is supposed to be waiting for him in their bed.

She is not there. She and the baby are nowhere to be found, and they have left behind a silence as dense as smoke.
There is a note on the bed. Even from a distance, he recognizes her handwriting, and even that looks too arrogant to be the expression of a gentle wife. He reads:

“I belong to God, not to you. I have learned your moods and even your thoughts in the time we have spent together, and I know your plans for me. Husband, there is no honour in this. Yes, we are destined to part. Someday we will be parted by death, but I am not ready to die while I still have a new life to nurture.

Do not look for me or our child. We will live somewhere else, and be known by different names.

Slaves and prisoners have always looked for escape, and have taken comfort in the holes in dungeon walls that let in light. The most determined servants – as you would call them, the most treacherous – have spent years widening those holes until there is room for a human body to slip through.

You will say I have lost my way, that I have thrown away centuries of tradition that have served our people well enough. You might even say I am possessed by the demons that bring madness.

I loved you once. I love our son, knowing that half his blood comes from you. Perhaps he will invent new ways of showing love.”
The man can hardly breathe, and yet he feels as though he has been reborn.


  1. Hi Jean!

    I know that this is partly or mostly from real life. I read something where Hemingway said he couldn;t write about Paris until he left Paris, or write about Michigan until he was living in Paris, because he was too close to the place and didn;t have the distance to understand it until he moved away. Isn;t it marvelous how at our age we look back on the events in our life which are like a kind of emotional compost that we dig through after we've got some distance and find new things growing?


  2. This is amazing, Jean. And terrifying. I think it could be expanded into a full-length story.

  3. Thanks for your comments, all. Garce, I'm sure my actual past helped to inspire this piece, but I'm constantly reminded of what COULD have been done to me by worst-case stories of what has been done to other women. This case haunts me:

    Good idea, Lisabet. Then I would need to find the right market. (I don't think this would work for an erotic anthology.)


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